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Today alert reader Karen alerted me to the fact that somewhere on Goodreads, the release date for my holiday novella, A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong, is showing as November 1.

This is not correct. I’m not sure how this information could have gotten onto Goodreads (I’m self-publishing the novella, so theoretically I should be the sole source for all info relating to it [though I was delighted to see someone else added the book, with cover image, to my inventory there, because now I don't have to spend the time figuring out how to do that]), unless they saw that I said it was “coming in November,” and decided to just translate “November” to “November 1.”

So let it be noted that when November 1 comes and goes without my novella releasing, it’s not because I don’t have my act together! It was never supposed to be November 1!

I don’t have an exact release date yet. In my heart of hearts I’d like to not publish it until December, because that’s when Christmas is and I’m grumpy about holiday creep. But realistically, I know that would mean missing out on a big chunk of the holiday-novella-buying season. (Or in my case, holiday-novella-downloading season, since it’s going to be free.) So, some time in November. Maybe right before Thanksgiving. I have to do the formatting and uploading myself, and I’ve heard this often doesn’t go smoothly for first-timers, so I’m reluctant to pick a specific date and then slide past it.

Let me take this moment to say how grateful I am for everyone who’s stayed interested in seeing a new book from me after what I know is an uncommonly long lapse in publication. (For two months now I’ve had a blog post in my “drafts” folder that details some of the life-stuff consuming a lot of my energy over the past year or so, but I haven’t pressed “publish” because it feels like TMI and also because it might not be relevant. Even when the rest of my life is cooperating, I’m always going to be on the slower side compared to most writers in this genre.) I’m grateful for being visible on Goodreads, too. Even if it does make me look like I don’t have my act together. To be honest, I often don’t.

I promise Andrew and Lucy’s story will be out there soon. Just not quite that soon!

So if your teenager goes and gets a tattoo without telling you, is the offense at all mitigated by the fact that it’s a literary tattoo?

tattoo, black cat w/red scarf

 

(I’m curious – were these books generally well known, or are they an obscurity particular to my family?)

Christmas Gone Wrong Excerpt!

I’ve put up an excerpt from the beginning of my holiday novella, A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong. I’ll be putting up another excerpt in a couple of weeks :)

And for my next trick…

It feels a little odd to talk about a holiday novella in the dog days of August, but every now and then a reader emails me and politely asks what’s next, so here’s what’s next: coming in November, a Blackshear family prequel that tells the eldest brother’s story.


Cover for A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong

IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN SIMPLE…

With one more errand to go—the purchase of a hunting falcon—Andrew Blackshear has Christmas completely under control. As his sister’s impending marriage signals the inevitable drifting-apart of the Blackshear family, it’s his last chance to give his siblings the sort of memorable, well-planned holiday their parents could never seem to provide.

He has no time to dawdle, no time for nonsense, and certainly no time to drive the falconer’s vexing, impulsive, lush-lipped, midnight-haired daughter to a house party before heading home. So why the devil did he agree to do just that?

IT COULDN’T BE MORE DELICIOUSLY MIXED-UP…

Lucy Sharp has been waiting all her too-quiet life for an adventure, and she means to make the most of this one. She’s going to enjoy the house party as no one has ever enjoyed a house party before, and in the meanwhile she’s going to enjoy every minute in the company of amusingly stern, formidably proper, outrageously handsome Mr. Blackshear. Let him disapprove of her all he likes—it’s not as though they’ll see each other again after today.

…or will they? When a carriage mishap and a snowstorm strand the pair miles short of their destination, threatening them with scandal and jeopardizing all their Christmas plans, they’ll have to work together to save the holiday from disaster. And along the way they just might learn that the best adventures are the ones you never would have thought to plan.


The cover is by Book Beautiful designs, who’s also responsible for, among others, Carolyn Crane’s Associates series (including her Rita-winning Off the Edge). I told designer Amber the basics of what I wanted: overhead shot of someone on a bed (to fit in with other Blackshear books) except more tightly cropped (to differentiate the novella from the full-length books) and then she and I both looked for images.

I considered some images that had a few more of what I guess I’d call “historical-ish” details (i.e. modern fancy-dress clothing), but I kept coming back to this one woman’s picture because her facial expression so perfectly matched the heroine’s character and the overall tone of the book. And I thought if I met her eyes while browsing for books, she would engage me, and make me want to know her story.

So that’s what’s coming next! Holiday *novella! I’ll be posting the first excerpt on my website pretty soon.

*You should probably know that, though I conceived this as a novella, and committed to the novella concept early on, it’s actually about 55,000 words. So somewhere between novella and category-length. But there’s not a good term for that length, so “novella” it is. Super-sized!

Here’s a link to a no-holds-barred negative review of a book I haven’t read, Samantha Young’s On Dublin Street.

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/430679707?book_show_action=true&page=1

At the risk of coming off like a heartless jerk and a shoddy member of the sisterhood of romance writers, I have to say I love this review. I’ll try to unpack why:

1. Let’s consider the basest motivation: spiteful jealousy. It’s possible that some part of me is thinking, “Ha, take that, writer whose book is way more commercially successful than any of mine!” I’m not aware of that being a factor, but it seems hubristic to claim I’m completely above that kind of pettiness, so I’ll put that out there and let it sit.

2. Writing quality: the review is articulate, well-organized, and funny as hell.

Over and over, each time there’s a bad-review kerfuffle, I’ve heard the assertion that negative reviewers are just jealous failed novelists, or, less specifically, people who engage in destruction because they’re incapable of creativity.

Hogwash. A well-argued, entertaining review–positive or negative–is a product of skill, hard work, and creative spark, and it deserves our respect. Even a single snarky zinger takes talent and inspiration to craft. (Seriously. I’m a novelist, and I put a lot of time and work into what I write, and I can guarantee you I will never come up with as substantive a contribution to our culture as Dorothy Parker’s “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly; it should be thrown with great force.” Or Oscar Wilde’s  “One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears…of laughter.” Or Marion Adams’s observation that Henry James “chewed more than he bit off.” [Burn! Love that one.])

3. Catharsis. This is an example of the bad-review subset that I think of as the “Emperor’s New Clothes” review. I’m sure we’ve all had the discordant experience of reading a book and thinking “This made the best-seller lists / has three hundred five-star reviews / won a RITA / is what Salon.com bloggers deem worthy of praise? Are you kidding me??” When you’re feeling out of step with the majority (or prominent) opinion, there’s a visceral relief in finding a review that emphatically confirms your own perception of reality.

And like many cathartic reviews, this one derives much of its impact from…

4. Passion + outrage. What’s wonderful about the outraged review (see also Jenny Trout’s epic chapter-by-chapter gutting of the Fifty Shades books, for example) is that the outraged reviewer cares. The subtext of the outraged review isn’t “Oh, ha ha ha, let me exercise my wit at the expense of this subpar romance novel.” It’s “Dammit, romance novels need to be better than this. I expect more from romance.” There’s no way that’s not a good thing.

Demanding readers, whether they demand competent sentence mechanics, better representation of under-represented populations, more thorough world-building, or more progressive male-female power dynamics, are crucial to the continuing growth of any genre. The readers who step up and say “Not good enough. I expect more” are the readers who push us–however uncomfortably–to do better.

Being the embattled and frequently dismissed genre that we are, we’ve gotten pretty good at making eloquent cases for the value of romance. But sometimes these arguments go a little far in generalizing and flattening out the genre. “As long as people are reading, that’s all that matters” and “Quality is subjective anyway, so it’s really just a question of personal preference” are arguments I’ve seen more than once in these discussions.

I’m not crazy about those particular arguments because they seem to preclude real critical engagement. I’d rather work from the assumption that our genre is robust enough to withstand vigorous criticism of individual works. And “vigorous criticism” isn’t always going to come out tactful or constructive. Outrage and snark have a place in the big conversation.

So does this mean I’d enjoy reading a snarky takedown of one of my own books? Heck no; I’m not that thick-skinned. What it does mean is that I don’t begrudge anyone else their enjoyment of snark directed my way, and I don’t begrudge any reviewer’s right to write it. As long as you’re not emailing it to me (please don’t email it to me), it’s easy enough for me to stay ignorant of, anyway.

A couple (or four) things more–

1. If Samantha Young did see the review linked above, I think she’d have every right to feel hurt and angered by it. Not “butthurt;” not overly indulgent of her “precious fee-fees;” not any of those other terms we employ these days to de-legitimize someone’s emotional response. Presumably she invested a lot of herself into the writing of the book; it’s only natural that it would sting to see her work emphatically trashed.

It’s not reviewer Rachel (BAVR)’s job to consider Young’s feelings, but that’s not because Young’s feelings aren’t valid–it’s because that’s just the nature of the author/reviewer divide. I don’t think we need to look for evidence that Young (or E.L. James, or whoever) is a petty or malicious or otherwise undeserving person in order to justify the harshness of the review.

As long as she doesn’t air her grievances in a way that (intentionally or not) results in her fans harassing the reviewer, then I don’t think it’s my or any other reader’s place to suggest a poorly-reviewed author “pull up her big-girl panties” or “dry her tears with her royalty statements” (if she’s at the royalty-statement level of success) or anything of that sort.

1a. I think the whole “console yourself with your royalty statements” thing is a fallacy. If you’re the kind of writer who places a lot of stock in reviews, I don’t think there’s any level of commercial success that insulates you from the sting of the bad ones. Thus I don’t buy into the idea (which is maybe more common among authors who review than among readers who review) that it’s somehow ethically better to savage a wildly successful book than one by a little-known debut author.

Besides, if the reviewer’s goal (or at least one of them) is to warn readers away from bad books, then it shouldn’t matter who the book came from.

2. Is there such a thing as a “bullying” review? I don’t think so. I have a pretty stringent definition of bullying (one day, if your luck runs out, I’ll tell you the story of what grades 6 through 8 were like for me) and I don’t think a review, which the author has the option of not reading, rises to that level.

2a. Is there such a thing as a review that’s too mean, though? Yeah, I think there is, although I haven’t yet figured out how and where I draw that line. A while back I read a post by the author Sarah Rees Brennan in which she mentioned a YA author friend of hers whose first review on Goodreads–right at the top of the review list; the first one anybody browsing her book page encountered–said simply “Why are all YA authors fat?” I don’t think that’s bullying, specifically, but I do think it’s a BS usage of a review space, and I won’t weep for free speech if Goodreads takes a “review” like that down.

Similarly, that sneering New Republic Fifty Shades slam-fest of a few months back (which was technically a review of a book about Fifty Shades) crossed the line from fiery criticism to gratuitous nastiness in its generalizations about FSOG readers and its insistence on referring to E.L. James by her private-life name rather than the name under which she writes. It’s the New Republic’s right to print something like that, but doing so made me think a lot less of them.

On the other hand, a little while after reading the New Republic article I read a brutal NY Times review of the latest Adam Sandler film and didn’t find it objectionable at all, and I’m not sure how I’d make the distinction. It’s not just that the NR piece got into personal criticism, because there were some fairly personal jabs at Sandler in the NYT review too. So I don’t know. I may just be inconsistent in my positions.

And that’s enough out of me. I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts. Do you enjoy bad reviews? Do you enjoy all bad reviews, or are there some that go too far–and if the latter, where do you draw that line? Do you think Adam Sandler is funny, and people should stop picking on him? Let me know.

 

I know; I was supposed to be back with a post on why I think bad reviews are valuable and worthwhile. It’s about 2/3 drafted, but I keep thinking of new things or changing my mind about existing things, and so I keep tinkering. At the moment I’m thinking of scrapping what I have and starting over.

(Advice to beginning writers: don’t be a tinkerer. Take it from me; it’s a terrible way to write.)

So I’ll jump ahead and talk about a smaller, more manageable subject: street teams.

Yesterday on Twitter, the author Lauren Dane asked what people thought of street teams, and helpfully storified the responses. There were a number that I felt some agreement with, but none that precisely articulated my own position, which goes like this:

I’m all for people feeling evangelical about a book, including any and all of my books. But the street-team model presumes that evangelical response for every book. And that’s just not how reading works. There are people who loved my first book, but didn’t care for my second. There are people who liked the first two, but were disappointed in the third. There are people who loved all three, and probably at some point in the future I’ll write something that lets them down, too.

And I’m sure most authors who use street teams are careful to say “You’re under no obligation to give a good review, or talk up a book you don’t feel enthusiastic about,” but human nature being what it is, I think it must be pretty awkward and difficult for a street-team member to accept the free books or whatever swag comes their way without doing some promo in exchange. I can all-too-easily imagine a street-teamer thinking, “Well, I didn’t love it, but it won’t kill me to talk it up a little.” Or even worrying, outright, that she might be dropped from the team, or might incur the wrath of other team members, if she decides to sit out a particular book’s promo blitz. (The wrath of street-teamers is no joke, as a number of review kerfuffles have now shown us.)

So even in its most benign form, with an author who actively discourages attacking reviewers and who articulates a no-obligation policy, I feel there’s just too much built-in motive for artificial enthusiasm. And that’s not what I want, as an author, as a reader, or as someone who cares about the integrity of our genre and of books in general.

(Steel-trap-memoried readers will recall that I gnashed my teeth some about promotion and integrity last summer, when a number of generous authors offered to promote A Woman Entangled–which at the time of the offer none of them had yet read–for me while I was laid low by my father’s very recent death. The question of how to balance one’s wish for commercial success with one’s concepts of integrity is a kind of rabbit hole down which a writer can spend an awful lot of time, it turns out.)

 

In the interest of promoting a climate in which readers feel free to review frankly with no fear of reprisal or secret passive-aggressive hostility, here’s my position on reviews, as well as on some related issues.

The short version:

  1. I don’t ever look at Amazon or Goodreads reviews unless a reader emails me with a link to her/his review.
  2. I don’t google myself, and currently I don’t use Google Alerts.
  3. I believe negative reviews are a crucial part of a healthy Romanceland ecosystem. This includes:
    • snark-filled reviews
    • simple “thumbs down” reviews that don’t elaborate on the flaws
    • lengthy reviews that employ critical theory
    • reviews with and without .gifs
    • negative reviews of my own books
  4. I don’t use a street team (I’m uncomfortable with even the more benign incarnations) and I doubt I have the kind of fan base that could be mobilized to attack reviewers. But in case I’m wrong about that, Fans of mine, please know that I don’t ever want you attacking people for leaving me negative reviews.

The long version:

This might be long enough that I need to break it up into more than one post. We’ll start, anyway, with the evolution of my position on reading reviews, and with it, my gradual understanding/appreciation of the concept of author-free spaces.

So. Once, in the primordial dawn of my career as a published author, I commented on a reader’s review. It was fairly innocuous as these things go – it was a very nice review, and I, not yet grasping that not everyone who loves your book wants to be your new best friend, bounced into that space and said something about liking the review.

This wasn’t the first time I’d interacted with this reader – we’d exchanged emails over the logistics of a giveaway she’d entered, and then I’d seen somewhere (twitter?) that she’d liked the book, and I’d said something to her about that, and so by this time I suspect I came off as flat-out creepy and stalkerish. Her reply to my comment on the review was perfectly polite, but it was obvious I’d made her uncomfortable, and I hate making people uncomfortable, so I decided to never again comment on, or like, a reader’s review. (I know there are readers who appreciate getting “likes,” but I’d rather risk disappointing them than risk making the other kind of reader feel like their author-free space has been ickily intruded on.)

Similarly, when my first book got reviewed at All About Romance, they emailed me to let me know, and also included a link to the discussion thread for my book. There was a discussion thread for my book! People had read A Lady Awakened, and had things to say about it, and a lot of people liked it very much! It was thrilling to read at first, but right around the time I got to the second page, it really sank in that these people were not expressing their opinions with me as the intended audience, and that in fact they’d probably be creeped out if they knew I was looming over the conversation like some obsessive, validation-craving Big Brother.

I quit reading the Lady Awakened discussion thread, and, when A Gentleman Undone came out some months later and AAR emailed me to let me know that book had a thread too, I never looked at it. In general I just feel better about myself if I keep out of those spaces; plus by avoiding the Amazon and Goodreads reviews, I also avoid the possibility of flipping out and having a high-visibility meltdown over a bad review. Wins all the way around.

Gradually I’ve cut back on my reading of blog reviews as well. I used Google Alerts in the beginning, and was Alerted to some tremendously gratifying reviews. I’m still grateful to have seen them, and even more grateful to have been led to some wonderful blogs I might not otherwise have discovered.

But I’d heard a lot from other writers about how avoiding all reviews was beneficial to their sanity, so around the beginning of last year I turned off my Google Alerts. And I haven’t really missed them, nor have I felt like seeking out reviews. I’ll still read one if a reader emails me with a link, or occasionally if one hits my radar on social media. But otherwise I tend to stay away from reviews or discussions of my books, and it seems to work pretty well for now.

I suppose I could have omitted the last six paragraphs and skipped straight to telling you that I support your right to leave me bad reviews. But there might be readers for whom “I’m not likely to even know you left me a bad review” makes a better assurance than “I promise I won’t hold your bad review against you,” and I want those readers, as well as the ones to whom candor comes more easily, to feel free to review frankly.

Okay, I’m over 800 words so I’ll cut this off here. In my next post I’ll finish up with thoughts on bad reviews and also talk a little bit about street teams and maybe some related subjects.

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